Momma's Boys and the Predisposition to Affairsby Sarah P.

I have been reading a book on the topic of a man’s unhealthy relationship with his mother and I have found an anecdotal link between Momma’s boys and the drive toward infidelity.

But, before any Mommas of sons out there become offended, let me describe what an unhealthy mother/son relationship looks like.

Healthy vs Unhealthy Mother/Son Relationship

The thing is, I know one thing for sure: a man’s relationship with his mom serves as the foundation for his relationship with women. While a healthy relationship with mom can set men up for lifelong success and a good foundation for future marriages, an unhealthy relationship with mom sets men up for a real disaster.

Here is what a healthy relationship with mom looks like:  In the first 3 years of her son’s life, mom behaves in a way that creates secure attachment. As he grows older, mom establishes a firm dynamic where she is the parent and he is the child. Therefore she does not treat her son like a peer. She is also kind and fair and full of integrity within her daily dealings.

An unhealthy mother/son relationship:  On the other hand, an unhealthy relationship is also established within those first three years of life when the child develops either an avoidant attachment style or insecure attachment style. Both of these attachment styles set a child up for a myriad of problems later in life.

The hallmark of a mother who creates this type of attachment style is usually someone who looks to her child to meet her own needs. As the son grows into an adult, The mother treats her son as either a savior figure or a surrogate husband.  In fact these mothers can even be married, but they still decide to train their sons to be the husband that they always wanted.

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Many women don’t do this consciously. But I am convinced just as many women know exactly what they’re doing and carry-on anyway.

A Mother Fixation?

When a son grows up he is faced with a dichotomy. He wants to get married, or to have a fulfilling relationship with a woman, but he finds that if he tries to do so he is betraying his mother.

While Freud called this an Oedipus complex, I do not believe it is that at all. In the myth of Oedipus, he did not knowingly attempt to marry his mother. In fact Oedipus did everything so that he would not marry his mother. The mother did not want to knowingly marry her son either.

In this myth neither party wanted to marry the other, but when a mother grooms her son to be a surrogate husband she is knowingly and forcefully doing this. The son on the other hand resists it, for the most part.

These mothers have a favorite tactic and that tactic is guilt. If the son tries to establish his own identity and to marry someone, his mother pitches a fit and usually cries and says she is being abandoned.

Amazingly enough, many of the sons get married. However they are caught in what is called a “loyalty mind” forever after. In their subconscious mind they are harming their mother by getting married and loving another woman.

The antidote to this is having an affair.

Appeasing the Guilt

When a man like this has an affair, he is showing disloyalty to his wife and that allows him to subconsciously appease his guilt. Because then he is no longer being loyal to his wife. And if he is not being loyal to his wife then he is not betraying his mother. While it is true none of this makes sense on a logical level, the subconscious mind does not use logic since it is driven by emotion.

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What’s even more troubling is that when many of these men settle into marriage they lose physical interest in their wives and can only achieve sexual pleasure through extramarital affairs.

This is an incredible cultural phenomenon in countries like Italy. In Italy it is called The Madonna/Whore syndrome, but I find that label to be offensive because it is the wife who shoulders the blame. The real blame lies in the unhealthy mother/son relationship and it’s the innocent wife who suffers the most.

I have read anonymous accounts from many men who validate this and who are insightful enough to realize that they are unable to have sexual relations with their wife because of a clingy mother.

Crossing the Line

The saddest part in these dynamics is when a mother intentionally introduces sensuality within the relationship with her son.

Some men report that when they were young their mothers would strip for them and ask their sons to tell them how beautiful they were. Personally, this type of dynamic makes me want to vomit just writing about it.  In the most extreme forms it turns into a physical relationship with their moms.

Fortunately the physical aspects are relatively rare. Nonetheless the emotional aspects which are pervasive can do enough damage on their own.

I recently spoke to a colleague who has been a therapist for 40 years. I asked him what the most difficult cases were that he has seen over the course of his career. He said that he is helped people through depression, anxiety, affairs, sexual and drug addiction, and a myriad of other disorders. The hardest thing to treat though, was breaking an unhealthy mother/son relationship.

See also  Emotional Affair Signs

A man has to be absolutely motivated to want to break it with his mom and often times has to cut off all contact and be in therapy for years. In many cases this therapist recommended that wives leave.

However, I would advise wives to fight for their man if this is what they want. And to do everything in their power to establish that their husband is a grown man and needs to cut off unhealthy contact with his mom. Because in these cases the affairs will not stop until a husband takes his rightful emotional place as husband and lover of his own wife and not husband and/or lover of his mother.

The message that I want to bring home the most is that most affairs are not caused by sex drive alone. They are caused by all these things hidden and operating in someone’s subconscious mind.  If you think about it, sexual tastes and fetishes are highly metaphorical of what’s going on in the subconscious mind.

If he is being disloyal to you, you need to ask yourself where do those roots of disloyalty come from? I can guarantee they do not originate in a raw and uncontrolled sex drive.

We’d like to thank Sarah for contributing once again to our blog.  She recently finished her Master’s work in clinical psychology and is currently working on her PsyD (Doctor of Psychology ) degree.


    10 replies to "Momma’s Boys and the Predisposition to Affairs"

    • exercisegrace

      This is a great article. Our experience was pretty much the opposite, and just as damaging. My husband’s mother is an emotionally bankrupt woman, and her parenting style could best be described as cold and hands off. My husband and I met in high school so I witnessed much of this first hand. There was (an is to this day) NO pleasing this woman. She withholds approval and affection like it costs her the air she breathes. Add in an alcoholic father and it paints a poor picture for developing a healthy adult In my husband, it created a huge vulnerability and a need for approval and attention from women. It created an inability to set good boundaries and left him with inadequate coping skills. Our therapist says she thinks I have always done the emotional processing for him. Which, while a bit dysfunctional, it worked until life situations overwhelmed us both and he met up with a predatory OW who admits manipulating situations to “get” him.

      It has been exhausting for him to do the hard work of trying to heal the affair, and go back and process the emotional abuse of his childhood and figure out where that came in to play in his present. And more importantly, perhaps, how to KEEP it out of our future.

      • sarah p.

        Hi ExerciseGrace,

        It’s interesting that you mention your mother in law’s alcoholism. In fact, your comment has given me an idea for a new article. The adult son of an alcoholic mother suffers very similar wounds to the adult son of an enmeshed mother. It’s like they are two sides of the same coin, and that coin would be labeled ‘unhealthy relationship with his mom’. I would assert that any kind of unhealthy relationship with a man’s mom causes him psychic wounds. The reason for this goes back to the attachment pattern formed in the first 3 years of life. (And of course that pattern persists through his life even though its origin is in the birth-3 relationship). Men like this are either insecurely attached or ambivalently attached. The adult children of alcoholics usually have the ambivalent attachment since they never knew when or IF their needs would get met as children. But of course they can have overlaps between ambivalence and insecure attachment. I don’t have research on this but my gut feeling is that you will have better luck working it out with a husband who has a cold, alcoholic mom than a man who has a mom who figuratively wants to sleep between the two spouses in bed.

        I don’t know if your husband has ever gone to ALANON, but I would strongly recommend that he go and work all 12 steps. I have gone to meetings myself and they are wonderfully helpful.


        • exercisegrace

          Hi Sarah,

          His dad was the alcoholic. His mom is just a cold person. If anything, my husband is over-attached to me. Our therapist said once….”I think he would crawl inside your skin if he could”. Because we met very young (high school) I think he developed a very strong attachment to me. Just not a totally healthy one. Until his affair, he was really an ideal husband. He was very loving and attentive to both me and the kids. Over and over through the years he would say he knew how to be a good husband and parent by just doing the opposite of his own parents. I was truly amazed that he seemed to have overcome his rough start. But he was not equipped in any sense of the word for what our therapist called the perfect storm. Losing two of our parents, moving, financial issues with our business, two new babies…the list could go on! He didn’t have the coping skills and so depression set in.

          He was used to ME doing the emotional processing in our relationship. And in retrospect, I think I did a lot of cheerleading. When the “storm” hit, it taxed even my strong coping skills. My time and attention became very divided with two new babies, sleep deprivation, stress, etc. It was a difficult time, but I kept telling myself it was a season and it would pass. I took on the full burden of running the house, caring for the kids, paying the bills, errands, etc. His only thing was work and mowing the grass. In retrospect, I didn’t do him any favors by taking on the lion’s share of our life. I thought I was taking stress off his shoulders, but really I was just giving him enough freedom to hang us both. To his credit, he NOW says that I supported him to my own detriment.

          He chose to cope by escaping into an affair. At the time, he justified his affair because he felt “unloved” and “neglected”. Very childish, very selfish. We have discussed that time period and both of our actions with all three of our counselors. All three said I couldn’t have done more than I did. When the crisis hit, he chose the self-serving easy way. The whore is a genuine sociopath who has done this before. She admitted to manipulating him.

          So going forward, the challenge is for him to basically grow the hell up emotionally. He needs to learn both coping skills and boundaries for the times that life gets hard. I can’t carry it all on my shoulders.

          • sarah p.

            Hi ExerciseGrace,

            I understand why the perfect storm could have stressed anyone’s marriage. And yes, it sure sounds like the OW was/is a sociopath. It also sounds like your husband was living very admirably before he was challenged emotionally by all of those terrible events at once. In these cases I really believe there are OW out there who are truly predatory sociopaths and who are floating around looking for the next ‘easy’ man to bring down. It’s like some kind of sick game and one that I can never understand. But the sociopathic mind woks differently than everyone else’s mind. I am so sorry to hear that you were caught on the crossfire. It’s very sad for everyone and I hope the OW gets her comeuppance once day soon.

            • gizfield

              That kind of goes along with my Master/Apprentice Theory, which I haven’t had time to get back to yet. I’ve been really busy the last couple of days.

    • Rachel

      Wow, there are so many blogs opened I can’t remember where I read about the book by Peace. I just downloaded it to my computer. Looking forward to reading it tonight .
      Thank you to whoever recommended it.

    • gizfield

      That was me, Rachel. I really enjoyed the book. I think you will see your husband’s behavior in there. The lady who wrote it writes like she’s talking to a close friend. Very soothing.

      • Val

        Hi, I’d love to read such book. Could mention the author please?

    • blessingsandhope

      Hi-this is interesting while as you mentioned Sarah–sickening. My husband’s therapist has said his affair was based on not being able to grieve his mother’s death correctly. His father and mother had him later in life–all his siblings were older by at least 10 years-15 years and moving on with their lives. He basically was raised watching TV–eating in front of it–with very little emotional interaction although loved. In fact it is said he was the favorite–everyone including his siblings doted on him except his father. He was the silent provider. Once his father died–he moved home with his mother at 28. That is when we were just beginning to form a relationship. We ended up living with her until we were married. Needless to say, once his mother passed at almost 90 years old–he had silently dreaded her passing –never expressed emotions and in fact after the funeral -never cried again. It was two months later the OP begin to manipulate him with “affirming words”–which he grew up with. He states they made him feel “safe, calm, and warm.” He said the words became a drug to feel better about himself–(several therapists have determined he’s been depressed for probably 14 years since his demotion at work–never got over it–another avoidance of emotions –and with his mother’s death it took him to a major depressed state–numb and zombie like he says). Anyway–he said there was no face to this person–just the words he sought to get this feeling for himself–the more he got it the more he needed it. Then of course–the OP manipulation brought this to a level where he made horrible decisions and did whatever she basically asked for … His therapist stated he was seeking the words bc they brought him to a place his mother did when he would spend time with her…feeling good about himself, safe, calm and warm–she was still there for him. It is sad and disturbing for him and me….so much pain. It just seems that the mental health of these men truly contribute to their decisions–bc of their pain, lack of feeling good for themselves and the old masculinity theory –grown men don’t cry–therefore you shouldn’t feel.
      Thank you for writing and listening–

    • Jason

      Best article out. gives ya so many answers. they never will realize it

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